tv CNN Presents CNN December 25, 2013 8:00pm-10:01pm PST
earthly key, a messiah who will deliver them from the yoke of roman oppression. into this powder keg walks jesus of nazareth. his protests against the romans make him a popular hero. to some, he is the messiah. but to the romans, he's political trouble, so they crucify him. the followers of jesus believed that he has risen from the dead and will soon usher in the kingdom of heaven, but when and how will this new faith survive -- after jesus?
today, more than 2 billion people call themselves christians, people who believe jesus rose from the dead. but perhaps it's a miracle that christianity did not disappear when the romans crucified jesus on a lonely hill outside jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago. >> this region, jerusalem and judea, represented an important land bridge between syria and egypt. so throughout history, this has been a critical place. >> jerusalem had been the holy city of judaism for more than 1,000 years, a place that the romans had occupied since 63 b.c. at the time the romans killed jesus, around 30 a.d., scholars say, the jews were desperate for
a messiah to free them from roman oppression, to liberate them on their promised land. but even then, there was disagreement as to who that messiah might be. >> in the 1st century, there was no messianic checklist. some people would have followed jesus and considered him to be will messiah, god's annointed one. others followed john the baptist. others followed additional figures. >> in the cosmopolitan city of jerusalem, with its massive temple, the holiest site on earth for jews, and its regal priestly caste, would many have even noticed jesus, a wandering rabbi from the galilee. >> it's a good question, whether
jews in jerusalem at the time would have even known about this sect of jewish christians, people who believed that jesus was the messiah. >> he would have looked the same as everybody else. he dressed the same as everybody else. he had some perhaps some disciples, some people following behind him. when you think of the temple, it's a place where there's a lot of activity, a lot of coming and going. no pews. then he would not necessarily have stood out to everybody. >> and his execution might have been equally obscure. >> the romans executed hundreds of thousands of people in the holy land in the 1st century b.c. and a.d., and another person being crucified, it's almost part of everyday activity. >> in fact, the jesus story looked to be over even before he died. after all, jesus had been betrayed by his own disciple, judas, and as jesus had foretold in the gospels, his chief disciple, peter, had already publicly denied him three times. only a few women, led by his mother, mary, stayed at the foot of the cross.
>> outside of the women, who remained there watching, the picture we get from the gospels was that most of his followers actually ran away and hid because they were afraid for their own safety. >> that should have been the end of the jesus story, and it might have been if not, the gospels tell us, for the women, namely mary magdalene, and mary, mother of jesus. three days after his death, they discovered his empty tomb. as he promised, jesus had risen from the dead. >> this is the key moment. what happened in the days after easter, and how did the news spread? >> the new faith had another revelation. the resurrected jesus appeared to his disciples. according to the acts of the apostles, jesus told them to stay in jerusalem, where they would soon get a sign from heaven, baptized with the holy
spirit. >> so they sat there in a state of anticipation and expectation, but not really knowing. >> then on the jewish feast of pentecost, 50 days after jesus died, the sign came. and suddenly, from heaven, there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind. it filled the entire house where they were sitting. divided tongues as a fire appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them, all of them were filled with the holy spirit and began to speak in other languages. >> so that jews who were in jerusalem, be they from egypt or syrene or greece or even rome would be able to understand this new proclamation in their own dialect. >> and so now, all of a sudden, 8,000 jews in jerusalem have
converted, and before long there won't be any non-christian jews left, according to the book of acts. >> the story in the book of acts was written by luke decades later. could he have exaggerated to make it sound even more impressive? >> i think it most unlikely that it happened exactly as luke describes it, but luke is absolutely clear what significance he sees in what happened. and what he needs to do is relay through his story, not just what happened, but what it meant that it happened, what it signified, and so he draws on the old testament. and we have this wonderful image of all the nations of the earth being reunited under this renewed blessing and law of god. >> less than two months after the violent death of jesus, his
once terrified followers were now boldly proclaiming his divine rule. it would seem that christianity had already taken root, though its followers didn't see it that way. >> these earliest followers of jesus understood themselves to be jews. they thought that jesus was the jewish messiah, who had been sent from the jewish god to the jewish people in fulfillment of the jewish scriptures. >> so they're not, at least, originally interested in starting a new religion. they're interested in preparing the world for its final consummation. >> but that kingdom doesn't come. and the claims the followers of jesus start to make about him begin to sound like blasphemy. >> so the problem is not in the belief that jesus is the messiah. the problem is when the belief is moving from messiah to a kind of deified messiah. and as this begins to be
understood by the jews, then opposition to this movement is no longer a political thing. it's a very strong religious thing. >> in fact, it will come to bitterly divide the family and lead to centuries of persecution. but now in the years after the death of jesus, his followers needed to keep his message alive. and they get two messengers, who could not be more different. peter, the simple fisherman from galilee, who was jesus' chief apostle. and paul, the sophisticated pharisee. together they will create a religion that would change the world. ♪ ♪
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♪ just a few years after jesus was killed, the book of acts tells us, a devout jew named stephen stood on the steps of the temple in jerusalem, the holiest spot in all of judaism, and directly challenged the religious establishment. he proclaimed the jews had rejected the messiah, and so the temple would be destroyed. the only way to salvation was through jesus, the son of god. it was blasphemy. >> and according to the traditions in the book of acts,
as he's being stoned to death, he looked up to heaven, and he saw jesus himself standing by the right hand of god, and he prays to jesus that he not hold this against his wepersecutors, and then he dies. >> the martyrdom of stephen was a gift from heaven and a propaganda coup. just like jesus, his followers were willing to prove their faith with their lives. but for one young man who participated in the stoning of stephen, getting rid of blasphemers was the mission. his name was saul. born in tarsus in asia minor, he was a pharisee, a member of a powerful jewish movement. >> and he thought that this was a blasphemous idea that the messiah would be somebody who was crucified, because for most jews the messiah must be a figure of grandeur and power. how can you say that a crucified man is the messiah?
>> as he understands it, the appropriate response to this is to persecute, to cut out, to destroy this messianic jewish movement that is happening, that is focused on jesus of nazareth, and that's what he does. >> saul was at the forefront of that persecution, says the book of acts. breathing threats and murder, saul set off in furious pursuit of jesus followers who had fled to damascus. >> damascus was a holy place, and there were those who thought the messiah, the christ, would appear in damascus. >> but while on the road to damascus, saul had an extraordinary vision. suddenly, a light from heaven flashed around him, says the book of acts. he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "saul, saul, why do you persecute me?" he asked, "who are you, lord?"
the reply came, "i am jesus, whom you are persecuting." >> and when he finds out that jesus is truly alive, it means that the other things that jesus' followers say about him must also be considered as true. jesus is the messiah. >> saul of tarsus who never met jesus in the flesh, never traveled or supped with him and who wanted to kill his followers, becomes the greatest defender of the jesus faith, known to the world by the greek version of his name, paul. >> some people have called paul the second founder of christianity, because christianity is more than following the teachings of jesus. christianity is not just the religion that jesus had, it's the religion about jesus. it's the religion founded on jesus' death and resurrection.
>> in his letter to the galatians, paul reveals exactly what jesus told him to do. "that i should announce him triumphant among the gentiles." it was a radical mission. >> he starts preaching there, to gentiles, to pagans and saying, "this is a faith that can touch you," and that must have been -- it must have -- the jews in the diaspora must have said, "my gosh, did we miss something? when did they suddenly make judaism into a universal religion?" >> people listened to paul because he was the perfect man for the job, able to speak to both jews and gentiles in their own language. >> so he's one of the first really powerful intellect to convert to christianity in the 1st century. >> just what did this cosmopolitan jew say to the pagans to make them give up
their ancient gods and believe in jesus? >> this is the one who could heal your child, if your child was sick. this is the one who could end the drought, who could end the famine. this was the god who could raise the dead. this was the god who could do miracles and so this was the only god to be worshipped. >> indeed, paul's first mission abroad was so successful that for the first time, the followers of jesus get the name by which they will be known forever. >> in the acts of the apostles, luke tells us that it was an antioch that the believers were first called christians. >> there's some evidence to suggest the term "christian" itself was actually used by the opponents of the followers of jesus, as a term of derogation that, in fact, these are christians, little christs. who was christ? he was the one who was crucified, that's what these people deserve, as well. >> the christians now had a name and an identity of their own.
it marked the beginning of the public split with judaism. >> you both claim the same heritage going back to abraham. at some stage, you begin to give yourself a label or perhaps other people begin to give you a label. and labels themselves begin to set up differences. they begin to make you aware of differences. >> but delivering the jesus message put paul and peter in conflict. paul's open door mission to the pagan gentiles was a huge problem for peter, who thought the resurrection of jesus was for the jews alone. if you wanted to follow jesus, you had to become a jew and obey jewish law. and peter wielded considerable power back in jerusalem, power given to him by jesus. >> according to the gospel of matthew, jesus says to peter, "you are peter," the greek term
for rock, petros, "and on this rock, petra, i will build my church." >> peter became the head of the small christian church that was centered in jerusalem itself. so early on, peter was the key player in early christianity, and according to our traditions, was the one who converted jews early on to believe in jesus as the messiah. >> but there was another crucial leader of the early followers of jesus. his name was james, and he seemed to have the ultimate trump card in the new faith. >> because he was jesus' earthly brother, he was naturally raised in prominence among the christians of jerusalem, and eventually then, it wasn't long before he became the leader of the jerusalem church. >> and james agreed with peter, jesus was for the jews.
within two decades of the crucifixion of jesus, scholars say, christianity faced a life or death moment. >> this was the major dispute in early christianity, whether followers of jesus have to become jewish in order to worship the jewish god. >> the conflict threatened to destroy the new faith. how could it be saved? >> in jerusalem, around the year 48 to 49, the first apostolic council is called in order to resolve the issue of gentile christians. do they convert or don't they convert? >> paul argues that the holy spirit had descended upon the gentiles apart from the law of moses. therefore, there was no reason to insist that those gentiles be converted first to judaism in order to be a member of the church. and james, the brother of jesus, presiding over this jerusalem
council, agrees with paul. >> it was a huge triumph for the new faith, and especially for paul, whose argument had won the day. the jesus message was for the whole world, and those who believe that message would win eternal life. but the biggest test was yet to come. just how would the jesus message go down in the pagan heart of the roman empire? [ sneezes, coughs ]
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♪ >> in the 1st century a.d., the roman empire was home to more than 60 million people and dozens of religions. at the center of it all, rome, a city of a million people. to spread the word of jesus, the missionaries now had to conquer that empire. and first into rome was the simple galilean fisherman, peter. >> would peter have been in awe? of course he would have been. but peter had a message which he was convinced would put in awe all those people of rome.
>> believers in jesus also provided answers to the central mystery of life. >> the questions pagans were asking were, "what was going to happen to me when i die? how do i get forgiveness from sin?" the christian church said, "we can provide you those answers." >> believe in the resurrected jesus and win eternal life. that was the message that had appealed across the roman empire. a message that first spread throughout the huge jewish community outside israel. >> over a million jews in egypt and alexandria, jews in damascus, jews in antioch, jews in athens, certainly jews in rome. and for the early christians, these early followers of jesus, some of these jews would have provided missionaries a home, missionaries a base by which they could reach other jews as well as gentiles.
>> the romans had provided roads throughout the entire empire. they had gotten rid of many of the pirates that were on the seas. there was a common currency throughout the empire. travel was both possible and feasible, and so it wasn't unusual for somebody like paul to be able to travel around to different places. >> and paul never stopped. he just never stopped, and either by foot across the great land mass of asia minor, or by sea, particularly across the aegean, to and fro, from east to west. >> but we cannot discount the force of paul's own personality. religiously speaking, paul was a genius. >> paul not only set up christian communities, he also directed them from afar. writing letters or epistles to
keep them on the jesus message. paul's epistles to these various christian communities are the earliest surviving christian documents. older than the gospels. and he preached everywhere from small-town synagogues to athens, the center of world culture. convincing philosophers and slaves alike that god had sent his son, jesus, to die and rise again to save everyone. in his letter to the romans, written in 57 a.d., paul says that, "by god's will, i may somehow at last succeed in coming to you." nearly three decades after the death of jesus, paul would make his way to rome. but only after he was jailed in jerusalem, where he found himself threatened with death.
>> i can picture him just trying to convert the entire praetorian guard. the early christians, particularly the evangelists, the apostles were politically problematic. they were proclaiming a son of god, a god from god, a savior. but those happened to be titles that the roman emperor abrogated to himself. >> for the next few years, paul would languish in prison, surviving assassination attempts and brutal interrogations. finally, his appeals to be tried in rome were answered. >> paul is a citizen of the roman empire, and that provides certain protections for him. they include the right to a trial, the right to not be whipped or beaten without a trial, the right to appeal to caesar, and a protection against crucifixion. >> the trip from jerusalem almost killed paul when he was
shipwrecked in a storm. finally, in the year 60 a.d., paul reached rome in chains. just in time for rome's first official persecution of christians at the hands of the emperor, nero. in the year 64 a.d., when a fire destroyed much of imperial rome, nero famously fiddled while the city burned. but he had his reasons for letting the fire burn. he wanted to clear out space for grand new buildings. >> the christians living in the south of the city are immune from the fire that sweeps northwards. the christians were under suspicion. nero, the emperor, being blamed widely, realizes the christians are the scapegoats, the natural
scapegoats. >> he apparently had some of them burned as human torches in his gardens. he had others wrapped in animal skins and set wild dogs upon them in a public setting. and so this is the first persecution of christians by is a roman emperor. the reason christians were persecuted early on was not because it was illegal to be a christian. they were persecuted because they were known to be troublemakers. >> among nero's victims were the two most important leaders of the early christian church. peter had been living and preaching in rome. paul had been living under house arrest. now they were both condemned to death for their faith. >> peter is not a citizen of the roman empire, and so he is able to be crucified. then he's crucified upside down because he did not feel that he was worthy to die in the same manner that jesus did. >> paul, who spread christianity
throughout the empire, was beheaded. two years earlier, james, the brother of jesus, had been stoned to death in jerusalem. now peter was gone, and paul, too. the heart and the head of the faith. if jesus hadn't saved these three, what then for christianity? >> once these people died, there were already leaders in place who can take over the mantel of leadership and then lead christianity on into the future. >> christians weren't the only ones facing violent martyrdom. back in judea, in the birthplace of christianity, judaism was about to undergo the most horrific trial in its tortured history. rebellion, then war with rome. the terrible outcome would crack
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destruction of the temple was punishment on the jews. >> the jewish rebels managed to escape and made their way to a hilltop for the tress called masada. but that too ended in tragedy when the romans penetrated the fortress via a ramp. >> they took a suicide pact. they killed one another until the last one killed themselves. so when the romance finally arrived at the fortress in fact all they found were dead bodies. >> now with a rebellion crushed, hundreds of thousands dead, and with their temple gone, the jews were in danger of disappearing all together. >> there was no central temple.
for 1,000 years it had this same structure for 1,000 years. now it was over. many other religions had folded up their tents for far less. >> but it wasn't quite over. rabbi yohanin ben zachai had escaped. he made an appeal to the emperor asking to set up a peaceful rebuilding, promising that it would be purely religious and not political or military in nature. surprisingly, he agreed. and a year later, in 70 a.d., the rabbi whose academy represented judaism's last hope. >> he built for the first time
what would become the basis for a new type of judaism that would run parallel with the beginnings of christianity. >> from the ruins of the temple, two separate and distinct faiths emerged. >> some people have thought that this destruction of jerusalem in the year 70 led to a mainly break between judaismi and christianity. between those who didn't want to side with the jewish rebels in fighting with the romans. because for these followers of jesus, salvation doesn't come by overthrowing an earthly power but by believing in jesus. >> at the end of the 1st century, christian leaders decided they needed a new holy
scripture. they started writing down what jesus had said and done, and now christianity would take a new direction, a religion based on the word of the written gospels, a religion that would guide them far into an uncertain future. but just who wrote the gospels? and are they, indeed, the last word on jesus? [ male announcer ] this is george.
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>> by the end of the 1st century, christianity was adrift. the followers of jesus, persecuted by the imperial powers of rome, estranged from the jewish religion from which they had come. their founding leaders were dead, and the great temple of jerusalem was gone. israel lay in ruins. jesus promised he would return to save his loyal followers, but he had not. if there was ever a time of peril for christianity, this was it. >> the delay in the second coming caught everybody by surprise. i don't think any of the earliest christians thought they would be around for 100 years or 200 years or even 300 years. >> jesus to them was indeed a
crisis, which is why the new testament has so many times to address the question, well, where is he? why hasn't he come back? when is he coming? why didn't it just break down into a sort of collapse of disappointment and disillusion? >> it didn't break down because christian leaders decided they needed something more permanent to preserve the faith in jesus. so they compiled a history, sacred books, and a clergy to stand in for jesus, but that didn't happen overnight. >> i think most people imagined that after jesus died, the church just emerged suddenly, and that you had christians confessing the nicene creed, reading the canon of the 27 books of the new testament, and that it was all in place right after jesus' death. and in fact, it took centuries for these things to fall into
place. >> the core of christian belief is the story of jesus' life, death, and resurrection, as told in the four gospels -- the books of matthew, mark, luke, and john, named after the evangelists, said to have written them. >> matthew and john were two of the disciples of jesus. matthew, the tax collector and john, the beloved disciple. mark was a companion of the apostle peter and luke was a companion of the apostle paul. >> but did they really write the gospels? >> we can never be sure. what could happen is easy to imagine. in days such as that, peter was relaying to some young pupil the stories he remembered before it was too late, and mark is putting them into an order in which this story will offer some
consolation to a church that is facing terrible destruction. >> mark is the earliest gospel, scholars say, written around 65 a.d. matthew and luke were written some 15 to 20 years later, and finally, the gospel of john was written about 90 or 95 a.d. while each of the four gospels recount the death and resurrection of jesus, they are strikingly different. >> the question of where they got their information is very interesting. what most scholars today think is that, after the days of jesus his followers told stories about him, about what he did during his ministry. and these stories were circulating year after year, decade after decade, until later authors, who were not the illiterate aramaic followers of jesus in galilee and jerusalem, but were greek-speaking christians of a later generation. these later authors heard these
stories and then wrote them down in their books. >> the gospels were written not as history, scholars say, but as a kind of divine story. a gospel truth. >> when we now read these gospels as straightforward narratives, we completely miss their point. we are trying to make them into a diary. they're not a diary. we're trying to make them into a biography. they're not a biography. they are what, in our terms, should be called an apocalypse, a disclosure of a truth which -- a supposed truth -- which the gospel writers themselves believed was beyond all normal human comprehension. >> and they were aimed directly at the jews who had not embraced jesus as the messiah.
so by the end of the 1st century, disagreement had become a deepening divide, further driving christians from the jewish faith. >> by the time we get to john, we hear talk of those who respected jesus being thrown out of the synagogue. yes, and how the enemies in john's gospel are the jews. it left a terrible legacy in christianity. >> if you read your gospel carefully, then sometimes you would stop and be rather perplexed by this, because jesus is a jew, his disciples are jews. practically all the characters are jews. so when the jews challenge jesus and his disciples, you should say, "hang on a minute, they're all jews. what do we mean by this?" >> they're jewish, and they're writing about other jews, and it's like, "i can call my mother names, but you should not call
my mother names." this was an inter-brotherly, sisterly fight for a definition of judaism. and yes, that they did not like what other jews were saying, but they were also themselves jews. >> scholars say that the final split came early in the 2nd century, when the jews of israel launched another rebellion against roman rule, led by their messiah, simon bar kokhba. >> the jews' rebellion thought that bar kokhba was their messiah, which meant that they had already rejected the christian notion of messiah. >> the bar kokhba rebellion ended with the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of jews, including their messiah. but christianity soon had a new fight, and the enemy came from within. as christianity's 2nd century
began, its leaders now battled heretics, monks and mystics who wrote their own jesus stories. gospels that would threaten this young religion. ♪ and nobody ever says goodbye ♪ ♪ i have a cold with this annoying runny nose. [ sniffles ] i better take something. [ male announcer ] dayquil cold and flu doesn't treat all that. it doesn't? [ male announcer ] alka-seltzer plus fights your worst cold symptoms plus has a fast-acting antihistamine. oh, what a relief it is!
christian monks were writing their own version of the life of jesus, one that launched a battle for the very heart of christianity. of all the threats to christianity over the past 2,000 years, perhaps the greatest came in 1945 near the village of nag hammadi in southern egypt where the waters of the nile dry up into desert sands. this is where a farmer named mohammed ali was digging for fertilizer when he discovered a clay jar with 13 ancient books hidden inside. >> within these books, there were over 50 texts, most of which we did not know about before, that could help us understand the beginnings of
christianity and the development of religion in some remarkable new ways. >> but it all nearly vanished in a puff of smoke when the mother of mohammed ali was looking for fuel to make some tea. >> she found these old books, and as he told the story, mohammed ali says, that his mother ripped out some pages of papyrus, some precious pages of ancient text, and pushed those underneath her stove and burned the papyrus and had some delicious tea that day. but what was lost in the process we will never know. >> what we do know is that the surviving books, called the gnostic gospels, gave the world a compelling and competing story of what happened after jesus. >> the text of the nag hammadi library are making it very clear that there were a lot of gospels that were composed in the early church.
four were finally selected for the new testament canon, but beyond that, there were plenty of other gospels. >> other gospels? more than one version of the faith? in fact, there were many. there were even christians who believed in more than one god. >> all of these groups said that they were following the teachings of jesus, and that they themselves were the true christians, and that other groups are wrong. >> by far the most successful and threatening was a group called the gnostics who lived in egypt in the 2nd century, and they wrote their own version of the life of jesus. >> the word gnostic comes from the greek gnosis, which means knowledge, but it's not the kind of knowledge you simply get out of books. but rather it's mystical knowledge. it is insight into the true nature of who you are and what is your relationship to god. and is there an essence, a
spark, a bit of the light of god within your own self? >> but finding god within yourself was blasphemous, according to orthodox christians. they believed that god had created everything, and his creation was perfect. though man had sinned in the garden of eden, the gnostics saw it differently. >> according to gnostics, this world we live in, this material place is not the creation of the one true god. this is a cosmic disaster that happened, and there are people who are trapped here in human bodies. >> but there is hope because some of us, just some of us, will be woken up by the redeemer coming to us from the world of the spirit and will re-introduce us to our real destiny, which is to rise again from this material filth through layer after layer
of the heavens to the true spiritual realm. it's very attractive. it offers a form of self-discovery, of self-truth, self-realization. >> the gnostic message was very seductive. a mix of greek philosophy, egyptian religion and eastern mysticism, all very contemporary in its spirituality. >> the new testament gospels are gospels of the cross. the gnostic gospels are gospels of wisdom. the new testament gospels care about salvation from sin. the gnostic gospels care about salvation from ignorance. the new testament gospels look to stimulate faith.
the gnostic gospels look to stimulate knowledge and insight. >> gnosticism held a fascination for many christians for another reason. its gospels seemed to offer a more female-friendly faith. >> it was the gnostics that thought the role of the female as an image and the role of women within the church should be advanced so that god is not only male, god is also female. there are not only male leaders, there are female leaders. there are not only male priests, there are female priests, and in this way, there is a kind of gender balance found in these texts. >> that balance is not found in the gnostic gospel of thomas, where peter asks jesus to send mary magdalene on her way, for women aren't worthy of apostolic
life. >> and jesus replies, "leave her alone for i shall make her a male, for every woman who becomes a male will enter into the kingdom of god." this isn't a very liberating view of women, and not one i think the people probably want to latch onto today. >> the gnostic gospels seemed to assault the very foundation of orthodox christianity, telling a different version of the life of jesus. not only does doubting thomas have a gospel, but so does judas escariot, the apostle who betrayed jesus for 30 pieces of silver. >> the gospel of judas escariot? what a provocative thought that is, that there could be good news or a gospel associated with the person who is most renowned as the betrayer of jesus. and now, lo and behold, a gospel of judas has been discovered,
shedding more light on how provocative and interesting and insightful that 2nd century was, with all the diversity of thoughts so that even a figure like judas can be linked to the good news of jesus. >> so, too, can mary magdalene. for centuries mistakenly depicted as a repentant prostitute, she is the chief apostle in her own gnostic gospel and much more than that to jesus in the gnostic gospel of philip. >> in the gospel of philip, it is said that jesus loved mary magdalene more than all the other disciples, and he used to kiss her often on her, and then there is a likuna or hole in the text. we think probably it means on her lips, as a matter of fact, but it says something about the perception in that particular text of the closeness of jesus and mary magdalene. mary was a beloved disciple of jesus.
>> but scholars tend to read that passage as symbolic rather than as a literal relationship or secret marriage between jesus and mary magdalene. >> scholars have not been persuaded over the years that jesus was married. we know of jews from the 1st century, in fact, who were unmarried. and it's striking that the jewish men that we know of who were single and celibate were men who shared the same point of view as jesus. >> perhaps the biggest problem with the gnostic gospels is that they were written decades and even centuries after the gospels of matthew, mark, luke and john. for some historians, that passage of time raises serious questions of authenticity. >> the gnostic gospels are not early sources of christianity. they are documents that came into existence way after the actual gospels had come into existence.
they also don't fairly represent christianity as what it was, namely a group that had its origins in judaism. in fact, some of these documents are essentially anti-semitic, and that's why they want to deny the old testament origins of christianity. let alone to deny the real human role of jesus in judea in the 1st century. >> gnosticism to church leaders was heresy, and to survive in this dangerous time, the church had to be united. over the next two centuries, the sacred gnostic text would be suppressed, hidden or destroyed while orthodox christianity constructed great temples and claimed authority over the bible. even so, christianity would face its greatest challenge, persecution by the roman empire.
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churches as we know them. even the christmas holiday did not exist. >> the simplest things, like the date when jesus was born, was totally fluid through the 2nd and into the 3rd century. it only appears for the first time on a christian calendar in the 4th century as december 25th. so you get the feeling that the entire coalescing of the religion of christianity is taking place over 100, 200 years after jesus is no longer walking the face of the earth. >> a structure familiar to contemporary christians began in the first years of the faith with a simple act. as christians would hold their primary worship on a sunday, the day jesus rose from the dead,
and not the saturday sabbath of the jews. >> paul speaks of christians gathering together on the first day of the week, and they apparently sing hymns. they apparently read scripture. they take a collection of alms for the poor, and they celebrate what came to be known as the eucharist. >> this is my body which will be given up for you. >> eucharist, from a greek word meaning thanksgiving, was the early christian celebration, a re-creation of the last supper. >> the one ritual that jesus established for his communities was to share bread and wine in remembrance of him. >> do this in memory of me. >> and throughout all the christian communities, whether they were jewish christians or gentile christians, that partaking of the bread and the
wine in his memory became the central focus of his worship. >> but that eucharist would have looked much different than the ritual we see today, as paul reveals in corinthians. >> but the lord's supper, as he describes it, is not a funny different sort of practice with tiny wee little wafers or bits of bread and a thimbleful and a sip of wine or something. it is something which is integrated into a normal meal. he talks about some people going away hungry and other people having too much, so it's integrated in a normal social sort of context. >> and while the new testament mentions the idea of a church, using the greek word ekklesia,
early christians didn't worship in magnificent cathedrals. >> ekklesia simply means an assembly. early christians, early followers of jesus would have met in private homes. they might have met in public buildings. >> they began in a synagogue. they broke from a synagogue, and they met in houses. in corinth, where you have very wealthy gentile christian and jewish christian leaders, you would have a villa. and maybe a villa could host 75 or 100 people at one time. >> baptism took place at home and also the eucharist. the eucharist has its roots in the last supper. >> but who presided over these rituals was then an open question. >> the earliest christian churches were not organized according to a hierarchal structure such as we think of today where there might be a pope, for example, in the catholic church or bishops over churches or priests or even pastors over churches. the early christian communities,
in fact, were completely egalitarian. >> but a hierarchy did begin to emerge, taking on the form of the society around this young church and building on the vocabulary of the new testament itself. >> words like episkopos which means a pastor but comes -- or a shepherd, but comes to mean a bishop. words like presbyteros which means an elder but comes to mean an overseer. or words like diakonis which means a servant, but comes to mean deacon. all of these are inherent already in the new testament. we see though that the structure of the congregations is much looser. however, as these congregations continue to go on, as time lapses and communities grow, there is a need for more and more structuring. >> and with that structure came a power struggle. who would emerge as the new face of christianity? 1ñp
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course, christianity has been known as a male religion in that only the leader -- only the men can be leaders of the churches. only men can be the priests or the pastors or the pope, but in the early days, christianity was probably much more in tune with women's needs and the possibility of women playing leadership roles in the churches. >> it is a man's world, and it's a world where it's quite often difficult to capture the glimpses of women and to catch the glimpses of what women themselves felt. on the whole women don't write in this world, they don't leave records of what they are doing. >> as a result, the few surviving documents we have are written by men of the church who drafted blueprints for church life and works such as the didike. >> the didike, for example,
which is a composition that is titled "the teaching." didike means teaching. the teaching of the 12 apostles to the gentiles, and this is meant to be part of the legacy of jerusalem and jewish christian community to help gentile christian communities structure themselves. >> locked in the library of the greek orthodox patriarch in jerusalem is the single surviving copy of the didike. written about 100 a.d., it's a type of how-to manual for early christians that provides practical advice, how to worship, pray, baptize. >> how do you baptize? do you immerse, or do you sprinkle? what do you do if there's not enough water? how do you handle this situation? how do you celebrate communion? how do you break the bread? what should you say when you have the lord's supper? very practical advice. >> the didike provided structure for the earliest christians, and with structure came power. and with that power came the
final foundation stone of what we recognize today as the church, the authority to define what is sacred scripture and what is heresy? >> surely by the end of the 1st century the letters of paul have been collected. the gospels, matthew, mark, luke and john, and likely other gospels as well had been written, but it would take another several centuries before the canon of the church as we know it today finally took shape. >> different christian communities had different gospels that they read during the worship services. eventually, as it turned out, of course, only four gospels made it into the new testament. and scholars are fairly convinced that these four, in fact, are the four earliest gospels. >> with dozens of other gospels circulating, how did church leaders ensure the survival of the gospels of matthew, mark, luke and john? >> it is true that church leaders discouraged the reading of these other books, and they
didn't allow them to be read in their church services, but they didn't burn these other books. the way that you would prevent a book from being circulated in the ancient world was simply by not copying it, so the way to destroy a book was simply not to reproduce it, and that's probably what happened to most of the gospels that didn't make it into the new testament. >> armed with a hierarchy, a distinct set of beliefs and rituals and canon of sacred texts, the christian church not only had structure, but had power. a clear and present danger to the roman empire. christianity, attracting millions of followers, growing in its influence, extending its reach, had to be wiped out. [ sniffles, coughs ] shhhh!
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itself, with its roads and bridges, trade and travel that helped christianity spread. but now christianity and the empire were on a collision course. >> in some of the earliest writings of the new testament, the writings of paul, for example, christians are told that they should obey the emperor. they should be good citizens. they should pay their taxes, and the empire is seen as a benefit to christians. but by the time you get to the book of revelation, the enemy is the empire itself. the anti-christ is the roman emperor. this is the beast that is opposed to the humane christians. >> as a mark of their defiance, christians refused to bow down to the roman emperor. >> this made christianity unusual, almost unique, in the
empire, because every other religion could participate in the imperial worship, the worship of the roman emperor. >> we need to remember that in the ancient world, there's no divide between religion and politics. religion is part of social life. it is part of political life. so persecution of the early jesus believers is on that cusp, really, between politics and religion. >> throughout the empire, christians were tortured and slaughtered. prominent leaders had their eyes gouged out, were horribly crippled and killed, but refused to renounce their religion. the romans created an army of martyrs. >> the roman policy was a big mistake. they should have tried persecuting the rank and file and let the leaders wither on the vine, so to speak. i can't remember a single great
christian leader who aposticized under torture and who denounced jesus christ instead of being put to the sword. >> we find people mocking it. we find people saying they go to their deaths because they believe that there's life after death and mocking that. but it does seem to have been a driving force that attracted people. >> life after death, a driving force, despite the romans' brutal oppression. but christianity was also addressing the needs of this life. >> some people have thought that the christians' attention to social needs is what attracted people to this faith. here was a community of people that saw one another as brothers and sisters, that gathered together weekly for worship, that took care of the needs of one another, that collected alms for the poor.
>> late in the 2nd century, when plague wiped out millions, a third of the roman empires, christians turned their faith into action. >> christians stayed behind to look after the sick and dying and gave them food and drink. many of the dying people recovered, and they thought, "well, these are good people. let's hear about their religious faith." >> and many who stayed behind were women. they came to personify the nurturing and healing of christianity. >> here in the catacombs in rome, you have these lovely picture of the praying church. it's a woman holding her hands up. it's mother church praying. the church, the bride of christ.
>> and not just any bride, but the only bride church leaders preached, the one true religion that can save you from eternal damnation. >> christianity claims to be the only right religion, but in the roman empire, in fact, this was a unique phenomenon. christianity was monotheistic to the extent that it claimed that if you worship our god, you have to give up all the others. this meant that as soon as christianity converted somebody to this new faith, it destroyed the other religions in its wake. >> over the next 100 years, christianity not only survived, but thrived in the roman empire. and by the end of the 3rd century emperor dioclesian whose own wife and daughter may have converted to the religion, was so threatened by the growing power of christianity that he launched yet another campaign to wipe it out.
>> the empire at this time was maybe 60 million people, so there might have been something like 3 million christians at this time. and they were known to be a problem throughout the empire, and so dioclesian decided to try and persecute the christians. >> a religion whose founder told people to turn the other cheek now witnessed its followers slaughtered by the thousands in public spectacles. it was another roman emperor, constantine, who came to the rescue. was his vision of jesus just before battle a miracle, or just smart politics to pacify a growing faith?
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on october 28th in 312 a.d., emperors maxentius and constantine and their armies met on the banks of the tiber river near the milvian bridge to fight for control of the empire. though constantine's soldiers were outnumbered four to one, he had a secret weapon. >> before the battle, he had a vision in which he saw a sign of the cross in the sky, and the words written over it that said "by this conquer" he didn't know what this meant, so he called in some dream interpreters, and they told him this meant that it was the cross of christ that would allow him to be victorious. and so he arranged to have the image of the cross painted on
the shields of all of his warriors. >> constantine vowed to convert to christianity if he won the battle. and for centuries, his victory was seen as a turning point for christianity. but did constantine really convert to the faith his empire had tried to destroy? >> some historians have doubted whether constantine actually converted in the year 312, and it's true that there's some evidence that he retained a devotion to some of the roman gods. even after allegedly converting, for example, he minted coins in which he had a picture of the sun god. the inscription on the coin was saul invictus, the unconquerable
sun, a reference to the sun god who in fact was overall. and so was he really a worshipper of the god of jesus or was he a worshipper of the sun god? >> by that time, of course, christians ran in the millions. and i suppose constantine thought if you can't beat them, join them. and i think with his mother, too, well, he thought that this is true. >> constantine had an influential mother, helena, a devoted christian. she traveled to the holy land and located the most important sites from the christian story, building great shrines that remain among the holiest christian places today. >> she was a very noble lady, and she led the building program in the holy land to have the
church of the holy sepulcher built where jesus was buried and rose from the dead. and also a church built to honor the giving of our father, the lord's prayer. she had a building program there. and she had the money and his support. >> constantine also found in her faith something that would redeem him. >> he knew christian faith very well, and he knew baptism remitted all your sins, and he had quite a bit of blood on his hands. he wasn't the head of the roman empire for being mr. nice emperor. >> indeed, constantine was ruthless. he killed his son, his wife and several relatives. he had persecuted and tortured christians. yet with numbers in the millions, he knew they were crucial to keeping his fragile empire together. so he made christianity legal in
the year 313 that ended decades of brutal persecution. but it marked fierce internal battles in the church. the biggest of which went to the heart of christianity. >> now while the church was persecuted in an illegal religion and underground, there was only so much work that it could do to normalize what would be the heart of christian teaching about the nature of god, about the nature of jesus, about relationships within the church. >> but once constantine legalized the church, long standing doctrinal questions broke into the open. the biggest of them going to the core of christian belief. was jesus truly the son of god or just a wise man? >> constantine didn't care which side won this debate. constantine wanted a unified
christianity because he wanted a unified empire, and he wanted to use christianity to help him unifiy his culturally diverse empire, so he wanted christians throughout the empire to agree on major theological issues. >> in the year 325 a.d., constantine called the world's bishops to the small town of nicaea outside the imperial city of byzantium to grapple with the essence of christian belief. >> what we now call the nicaean creed, "i believe in god, the father almighty and heaven on earth." those tenets of faith come down from the 4th century and are still the bottom line of christian teaching today. >> in the heart of the nicaean
creed and christian faith is the jesus was both god and man. >> the earliest communities were already giving jesus the worship that could only be given to god. this is happening 30 years of jesus' death, but to find a philosophical language in which to say it, in which to formulate it, that took 300 years. the council of nicaea was not called in order to decide whether jesus was divine. it was called in order to decide in what way is jesus divine? is jesus a secondary deity, a subordinate deity, or in fact, is he equal with god the father. and the side that won out was the side that declared that jesus was equal with god the father, that he had always been god. >> beyond questions of dogma, however, constantine's nicaean council was also a major political turning point for the church. >> constantine declared christianity a legal religion, and he stopped the persecution, but it's not correct to say that constantine made christianity the official roman religion. in fact, he didn't make it the official religion.
he did make it a favored religion, and he started giving lands to christian bishops and supplying funds for the building of churches and so forth. this made it a very popular thing to become a christian, especially to become a christian leader. so from going from being a persecuted small sect, it turned into an important religion that was favored by the emperor. >> ultimately, the decision is made by some kind of a vote. ultimately, it has to do with power and with politics. and that's how people decide who is on the inside and has the right way of thinking and who is on the outside as the other and should be excluded as a heretic? >> some 300 years after jesus, christianity was now the dominant religion of europe, and it would spread around the world.
philosophi >> in the span of three centuries, the life and death of the jewish rabbi from nazareth had become the basis of the favored religion of the roman empire and gospel to millions. an astounding development that still fascinates and confounds even the experts. >> it's interesting that one single jew becomes the focus of the devotions of a whole people. while, you know, there were many other jews who were -- who had also been crucified, and many of them were also known as messiahs in the same time period. none of them had the following. so the big question is, why jesus? why did he get that type of following? and that's the real question of people who work out in the field
in archaeology is trying to figure out, why jesus? >> little wonder that the most popular explanation over the ages was that this all had to be the work of god, but historians don't work from divine theories. >> the historian can only look at what did happen in time and space. and what we can say with some certainty is that the early followers of jesus came to believe that jesus had been raised from the dead, and they were able to convince other people that jesus was raised from the dead. >> perhaps it was just the right faith at the right time with the world ready for a messiah who offered universal salvation. >> at a time of instability in the roman empire and mounting danger in the roman empire, an overextended empire, incredulity clearly in the traditional thoughts of the roman empire, and christianity offering something that appeared to be
utterly and beautifully coherent. about everything, from the smallest detail of your daily life and the community around you through to eternity. this is very compelling. >> some would say it was ultimately power politics, both divine and earthly, with an emperor recognizing the power of the people and their faith. >> it seems to me that what really made the difference in turning what was the whole greco-roman world into christian was essentially the roman government decision. that is to say, christianity was spreading, and it was getting bigger and bigger. but without that decision on constantine's part, what we know of as christianity as a world religion, probably wouldn't have taken place. >> in the end the story must always return to the beginning, to a single man from the galilee.
and a message so powerful that it moved his unlikely disciples to great things. >> it's sometimes suggested that a group of fishermen from the galilee would be incapable of establishing a worldwide religion, but that's simply our own modern skepticism. i mean, after all, abraham, a single man, managed to do so and mohammed, a single individual, managed to do so. the human spirit is remarkable if people simply put their mind to accomplishing what they feel god calls them to do. >> whatever accounts for christianity's success, the debates over what the faith in jesus is and what organized religion should be are far from settled. >> in the beginning of christianity there is diversity. there are different points of view, different interpretations of jesus, different ways of understanding god and the world.
and in the beginning, there is no orthodoxy and heresy. >> but that situation did not last for long, and much of the first 300 years of christianity and beyond were spent defining that faith. >> the struggle regarding orthodoxy and heresy never comes to an end, and these battles about truth and inclusion and exclusion are with us to the present day. >> sometimes we say if we could just get back to new testament christianity, then the church would live in unity. but in reality, when we look at the pages of the new testament, we find that from the very beginning, diversity characterized the earliest believers. whether they were jewish christians or gentile christians, the christian message and the christian church has always lived in this tension of diversity. >> and the church has gradually and slowly built up a fuller and fuller understanding of what it is to be human in the image of
god, trying to be honest to the jesus who walked in galilee and delivered the sermon of the mount. and also trying to be honest to the lives we lead in the 21st century. and that will always be intention, always. >> christianity has survived many powerful attempts to kill it off, and today, many of the issues that occupied the first christians are once again causing us to debate, challenge, and to believe or not 2,000 years after jesus. -- captions by vitac -- www.vitac.com